There’s a clip called “Driving with kids Qatar style” on YouTube. It shows a father sitting at the steering wheel of his large 4x4. His baby is wedged into the steering wheel. You can hear other cars beeping their horns at him as he tries to negotiate the roads with his baby actually inside the controls. The family are laughing, and a woman, one presumes the baby’s mother, is videoing the whole thing.
It’s a shocking thing to see, but unfortunately unrestrained children are not a rare sight on Qatar’s roads. ‘As a parent of two young children it’s particularly alarming for me to see babies and children jumping around inside cars or being held in their mother’s arms in the front seat,’ says Amanda Parker-Woods. ‘It’s one thing for an adult to make their own decision to not wear a seat belt, but putting their children at such risk is highly irresponsible, even if it is done unintentionally.’
In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report stating that just 50 per cent of people in Qatar wore a seat belt when travelling in a vehicle. According to the Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-2016, since 2003 there has been a 12 per cent increase in traffic accidents in Qatar that result in fatalities. The NDS also says that children and young people are greatly overrepresented in the country’s road accident statistics.
It’s this depressing reality that inspired Parker-Woods to begin a child seat belt safely campaign, linked with the launch of her company, Voucher Clubs, a discount voucher website. She has designed a car sticker to get the road safety message across. In green writing on a white background, the sticker says “Seat belts save lives” and asks “Is your child wearing one?”
‘The car stickers were an idea that I had to highlight the issue in the right area, on the roads where the accidents happen,’ says Parker-Woods. ‘People tend to sit in traffic jams for a long time in Doha so they have plenty of time to stare at the sticker on the rear of the car in front! So far I’ve given out over 100 stickers but I’d love to make that over 1000 and get to the stage where I regularly see the stickers when I’m out and about.’
Overwhelming evidence from around the world backs up the seatbelt safety message. The UK government has estimated that since it made seat belt wearing compulsory in 1983, 440 lives have been saved every year, and countless more people have avoided serious injury. Research by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of dying as a result of a car accident by 45 per cent.
The sticker campaign is likely to be just the beginning of Parker-Woods’ campaign. ‘It’s one step at a time for now, but I’ve discussed creating a website to highlight this issue, as well as other road safety issues. A couple of companies have expressed an interest in sponsoring the website so it’s something I’ll be looking into when I find time between looking after my two kids and running a business!’
Many people, however, say that they won’t wear a seatbelt out of habit and personal choice. Parker-Woods is unequivocal in her reply. ‘Simply look at the facts,’ she says. ‘In the event of a car crash, you are three times more likely to die if you leave your car as a result of the collision, compared to someone that remains strapped in. To say that carrying your baby or child in your arms is just something people do here is simply not acceptable – just because people have done something for a long time does not make it right. Qatar is growing and developing in so many wonderful ways, and road safety should not be left behind.’
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